Gillings sets her sights on Sochi Olympic medal

Gillings in training during pre-season at the indoor slope in Castleford, Yorkshire  -  Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Gillings in training during pre-season at the indoor slope in Castleford, Yorkshire - Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

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Manx snowboard cross star Zoe Gillings has set her sights on clinching a medal at next month’s 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The 28-year-old from Ronague began her season with an impressive fifth-place finish at the opening round of the Snowboard X World Cup series in Montafon, Austria as she attempts to build up momentum ahead of the Sochi Games in February.

Unfortunately there was bad luck for the snowboarder at the second event in Lake Louise, Canada a few weeks later when, having qualified with the seventh fastest time, she was knocked out at the quarter-final stage after a rival rider fell directly in front of her, forcing Zoe to crash off the piste.

Despite that setback she remains on track for Sochi and is currently seventh overall in the World Cup standings.

It is a remarkable turnaround from a couple of years ago when it looked like her Olympic career may be over following the collapse of the UK governing body for skiing and snowboarding which led to Zoe losing her funding.

Fast forward to now and the snowboarder-turned-entrepreneur now has a range of sponsorship deals and two online businesses – namely Isle of Deals and the more recent Expert Health - as well as UK Sport funding being re-established.

With a more stable footing off the slopes, Gillings will be concentrating on keeping herself in peak physical condition over the next month until the Winter Games.

‘I managed to get out on snow quite a lot over the summer at training camps in Switzerland and Austria, working on specific things for the course in Sochi which we knew in advance.

‘We had a test event in Sochi last February which was almost like a dry run for us and since then we’ve replicated parts of the actual course to help with the training.’

Injuries have been a problem for Gillings in previous Olympics, having broken several bones in her foot in 2005 before suffering heartbreak in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver when she incurred a serious knee injury in the semi-finals.

The Manx snowboarder is feeling good about staying 100 per cent fit for Sochi, but new rules mean that there will now be six riders competing in each race as opposed to four in the past.

‘That makes it that bit more unpredictable. There will be a few more crashes - two extra people on a course which is wide enough will definitely make it a bit more “exciting” anyway!

‘Snowboard cross is such an unpredictable sport anyway. Even if you win all your competitions in a season, there’s still no way of knowing how it will go but I will go as fast as I can and see what happens. Hopefully I can get a medal.’

Zoe’s main rivals to a podium place are likely to be the Canadian duo of Maelle Ricker and Dominique Maltais.

Ricker became the first Canadian woman to win a gold medal on home snow at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver so will be seeking to defend her title next month, while Maltais claimed bronze in the same event.

The latter was also crowned FIS World Cup champion the following year.

American snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis is also seen as something of an unknown quantity heading into the Sochi games.

The 28-year-old from Connecticut clinched silver at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin and is also a seven-time champion of the X Games, however she has been blighted by injury over the past couple of years before making a winning return to the aforementioned Lake Louise event last month.

Isle of Man Sportswoman of the Year in 2012, Zoe Gillings is currently ranked number eight in the world and is hopeful of breaking back into the top five in 2014.

Looking further ahead, she has not ruled out competing at the 2018 Olympics:

‘I don’t see why not. If I’m still enjoying it and the funding is there, I’d love to go again. I reckon the peak age is about 32, so I should be good for Pyeongchang 2018.’

Zoe is currently training in France and will head to Andorra this week for the next round of the Snowboard X World Cup in Vallnord before the X Games in Aspen, Colorado at the end of the month.

The 2014 Winter Olympics begin in Sochi on Friday, February 7 and will continue until Sunday, February 23.

Zoe appeared on BBC1’s Breakfast Show last week taking ice-cold baths to aid her recovery between events.

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